Alan Sweeney on Town in the 70’s: A Beautiful Struggle
From the highs of the swinging 60s, came the lows of the mid 70s. Huddersfield Town football club found themselves in the old Division 4—the basement of English football. Struggling for money, the club even organised a concert to raise some much-needed funds. The band that was chosen to perform was ‘Mud’, extremely fitting considering the situation that Town now found themselves in.
Turnstiles were at an all time low and the Terriers were known as the ‘’sleeping giants’’ of the football world. Some thought that we would never wake up.
It was described as a bleak era in our history. The Cowshed stood in a somewhat ghostly state and the pitch looked tired, but the players had to pick themselves up and start to rebuild. This was pre-Mick Buxton. This was pre- anything glamorous. It was time to roll their sleeves up and put a tackle in.
Around this time, Alan Sweeney broke through the youth set up, earning his place as a full back in the first team. We are very fortunate to gain a first hand insight into the mood of the club at that time and reflect upon his four seasons in the blue and white stripes.
Alan, tell us about your footballing background. How did you make it as a pro?
I signed on as an apprentice in 1972 just a few months before my 16th birthday. Up until that time I was playing kids football in Glasgow. Town had a big scouting network at the time and I was asked to come on trial. I signed pro as far as I can remember in 1973. I would have been 17 years old then.
Being of Scottish heritage and knowing that Denis Law once graced the pitch of Leeds Road, it must have been a proud moment when you signed for Town?
Yes it was a proud moment, as it was for any young kid who was signed for a professional club. If I am being honest I hadn't even thought that I might play football at a pro level up to that point. I knew that I was good as a kid but I just played and enjoyed it. I didn't know where Huddersfield was or who had played for them. I found out about the history after I had joined the club!
What brought you to the club?
I don’t remember name of the scout who brought me to Huddersfield. I do know that he had switched to Huddersfield from Glasgow Rangers, a club who wanted sign me as a kid until they found out that I went to a Catholic school and not a protestant one, but that’s a different story.
It must have been a difficult time to be a Town player?
It was a difficult time. Town were in the old First Division when most of us kids signed up, but as everyone knows, they fell down through the divisions very quickly in the seventies. By the time we got in the first team Town were in Division 4.
Did you feel like you were carrying a huge burden from past successes?
I think maybe not a burden, but there was immense pressure on all of the players of that era as Town were expected to go up each time they fell into a lower division. We had a great youth team at that time. We reached the youth cup final and then the semi final in successive seasons and we beat a lot of First Division teams who had kids who went on to become internationals! We all felt that if the youth team at that time had been kept almost intact as a unit, Town would have been promoted before 1980. A couple of terrible managers completely destroyed that team and sunk the club further into bad times.
Tell us about the squad you played with in the mid 70s. Who were the stand out players?
The squad at that time was a mix of some old pros from the early seventies, some kids, and some signings from the managers that followed Ian Greaves. It was destined to fail through bad management.
What is your fondest moment as a town player?
Making your debut for the first team is always a fond moment. I made mine in December 1974, a mid-week game against Plymouth Argyle, who topped the league at the time. We lost 2-0. Paul Mariner scored twice, I think. Playing a two-legged youth cup final against Tottenham Hotspur was also a good moment. There were over 15,000 spectators at the old Leeds road ground—the highest home crowd for about 2 years. Another was playing away at Craven cottage in the F.A. Cup against Fulham, who were the previous year's finalists, and beating them 3-2. They had a corner and I was guarding the near post and Bobby Moore was standing right next to me. When I was 10 years old I re-enacted the World Cup final in my back yard in Glasgow, and here I was nine years later stood next to the great England team captain in an F.A. Cup tie. Funny old game!
Tell us about the 1974-75 campaign when you broke through?
I think Town were relegated to the Fourth Division. We were up there for most of the season during 1975-76. We played Tranmere Rovers away and we only needed to win a couple of games to go up. We lost 3-0 away at Tranmere and they were awarded 3 penalties that were dubious. I think the referee was a chap called Willis and he always seemed to be against Town! In the 1976-77 season we were all optimistic and the team were up there until near the end of the season. We had a bad run and ended up in about 9th position.
Do you ever wish that you stayed at the club longer to become part of Mick Buxton’s 1980’s revival?
Not really. I left the club at the end of 1978. Mick Buxton had taken over and was bringing in other players so I moved on at that point. I went on to play for Hartlepool United the following year and was actually against Town in their promotion winning season.
I believe that you recently had a 1970s squad reunion? Tell us about that?
Yes, a few of us met up recently. Mainly the players from the youth team. Bob Newton, Martin Fowler, David Nicols, Wayne Goldthorpe and myself. We meet up every now and then and it is good to catch up.
Lastly, who is your Favourite town player of all time?
I think most of my favourites came out of the old First Division side. I don’t have one particular player but lots of favourites. Jimmy Lawson and Brian O’Neil were really funny guys as well as being great players. Geoff Hutt was a great man and player, Bobby Hoy amazingly skilful and Alan Gowling a true professional. Jimmy Nicholson was the hardest working player I ever saw and he would do hours of extra training on his own.